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The implications of how social workers conceptualise childhood, for developing child-directed practice: an action research study in Iceland

By Elizabeth Fern


This thesis explores the ways in which social workers conceptualise childhood, and the significance of those conceptualisations in the development of child-directed practice. The research described in the thesis was primarily carried out in Iceland working directly with Icelandic social work practitioners. The methodology adopted used an action research approach in which young people, who had interacted with social services, were engaged as research consultants. The thesis evaluates such an approach paying particular attention to the approach as a method for generating new knowledge, and its usefulness for the development of social work practice. The concept of child-directed practice brings together theoretical debates within the sociology of childhood with practical insights from the action based research findings to develop an approach to social work practice that is directed by children in their interests and by principles of social justice and equality. A constructionist grounded theory perspective was taken in the data gathering and analysis. The action research approach involved three key elements. First, the conceptualisations of childhood of the social work practitioners, and how this affected their practice, were ascertained through qualitative semi-structured interviews and group discussions. Secondly, the young people, acting as a group, were engaged to ascertain their views on how they would like to see social workers treat them. Their knowledge and perspectives were central to the data gathering and intervention with practitioners. Thus, in the third and final element, social work practitioners attempted to develop their practice so that it became more child-directed. Changes in their conceptualisations of children caused shifts in power and control, making their working relationships with children more reciprocal and equal. Evaluation of the action based research approach showed that it can act as a catalyst to changes in social work practice that are beneficial to children

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